As a person who prefers the savoury flavours afternoon tea would not be on my bucket list of meals. As a Wedding Anniversary treat this weekend we went to The Edgbaston in Birmingham to sample their version.
Its not that I haven’t had a few versions over the years. In my childhood we used to go to the Black Swan in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, as a way of appeasing my dad’s sweet tooth. I seem to remember they made the canny distinction of afternoon tea from high tea on the same menu with high tea being a slightly more savoury variation. In his later years Guy’s overlooking Scaling Dam was my father’s way of “reluctantly” eating vast quantities of home-baked cakes.
I’ve had the formal ritual of afternoon tea at the Savoy and the Landmark in London and thoroughly enjoyed it. Its not a meal – its at the wrong time of day and has terrible nutritional qualities – its just a snack that has got out of hand.
My wife comes from the Devon Cream Tea tradition and couldn’t believe that I had never tried one before I met her. It’s a long way from the North East to the South West and, as far, as I recall the clotted cream never travelled. If it had I have no doubt my Dad would have been front of the queue with his napkin tucked firmly under his chin!
In the meantime afternoon tea has become a ‘thing’. Hotels see the opportunity of drawing people in to use their restaurant and kitchen space in the middle of the afternoon and there are waiting lists for some of the better places. And so it was with The Edgbaston. We had a 3:30pm booking and turned up sharpish. The location is on a relatively quiet road in leafy Edgbaston away from the bustle of Five Ways and the Hagley Road. Its an elegant white-fronted Georgian building and the interior decor is black and gold rococo with chandeliers and mirrors. You can tell it is a sister of the excellent Kenilworth (in Kenilworth, the naming department is nothing if not accurate) because the two share the same look and feel and a mission to pamper.
We were seated in the Bar which was a largish drawing room. It’s fair to say that the table layout is compact and bijou – we were cheek by jowl on either side with other diners and, while fine, it did mean some of the theatre of what followed was slightly diminished because you couldn’t help seeing and hearing the same script with neighbouring tables. It’s also worth noting that I was one of only two men in the room at that point – this is very popular with the “ladies that lunch”.
The menu is the usual format with a basic afternoon tea for £25 supplemented in various ways by alcohol. One of these was the Moseley Serve which sneaks a cheeky cocktail into the proceedings. I also really like the option of swapping a normal tea for an iced tea version.
Things got underway with an amuse bouche of two chocolate and vanilla glass bowls in a larger dish with dry ice. The addition of parma violet scented water created rolling waves of smoke and brought a smile to everyone’s faces. Next up were the drinks – a rhubarb-based Yorkshire tribute cocktail for my wife and a Matcha Mojo iced tea for me. The cocktail was beautifully served in a teacup/cocktail glass hybrid. The iced tea was nice and refreshing.
The main event is the elaborate serving tray of savoury and sweet snacks. Highlights for me was a smoked fishcake with a tartar dressing, and an excellent egg mayonnaise and cress brioche. Chef Olivier Briault creates delicate small bites which look attractive as well as taste good. There was a very good macaroon, a zingy and light take on lemon meringue pie and a deliciously soused Black Forest tart. When we’d polished that off we had some scones – one fruit, one plain. They were lovely and fresh but not the lightest I have ever had. I’d rather have a cheese scone, butter rather than jam and cream, and I just don’t understand the plain scone so this wasn’t my bag anyway.
All in all its a fun way to spend an afternoon and excellent value for £25 – if only we could have stayed on to try the cocktail menu….